Groundrules for Breastfeeding an Older Baby / Child

Breastfeeding.

I think for many of us, whether we want to admit it or not, breastfeeding holds a love/hate relationship within us. Pulling various emotions out by the minute, day, week or month!

At the start I often felt stressed, wondering how I would ever coordinate these flailing newborn arms, a tiny mouth and engorged breasts to come together in synchrony, a seemingly impossible task at times. Soon I’d be breathing a sigh of relief, staring in wonder at a sleeping milk dunk babe, questioning how we ever doubted our abilities.

Time moves on, and generally it gets easier. You both learn how to fit this puzzle together, there are many blissful moments but there are also moments of doubt and frustration. There are times the aversion to breastfeeding is so strong I actively avoid it for a few hours if I can! Yet so much of the time I think about how amazing it is…

I can’t imagine choosing any other way to feed my babies, but that clearly doesn’t mean it is easy for me (check out my Feeding Friday posts here and here if you’re interested!) and I hear similar stories all the time. Actually, I hear similar however baby is fed to be honest – babies are hard work, display many of these behaviors during any milk feeds, so although I am writing about breastfeeding much of this is relevant however your baby is fed

Today I wanted to share a few insights to breastfeeding an older baby, and at a time where I’m implementing them myself, reassure you it is perfectly okay to bring manners to feeding time!

Everyone will have their own ‘rules’, acceptable / unacceptable behaviours and tolerance level, but I think its important (especially if you plan to breastfeed into the second year or beyond) to establish manners so you can enjoy the journey as much as possible. Remember to be consistent. Babies cannot work out when a behaviour might be more or less acceptable, so make the decision that it either is or isn’t and stick to it, obviously use patience, and exceptions when they’re truly needed. But here are some suggestions you might find helpful:

  • Create a word (or a sign) for milk early on. If you’re not keen on the idea of BOOOOOBIEEEE being shouted at top volume in Tesco, pick something like ‘milk’ ‘feed’ or another codeword. This can also help with the top pulling of older babies as they have learned their sign or word will get them milk easily so they don’t need to resort to helping themselves
  • Once baby / toddler is older, having boundaries on where or how often you feed is okay. Of course small babies should be fed on demand – your supply is regulating and they are solely relying on you for food and hydration. At times you my need to be flexible on this depending on tiredness, illness, injury etc, but I don’t feel like older children always need you to drop everything and feed immediately if you are say mid-shop, mid-cooking, or would just prefer to get home first etc.
  • If your little one is a ‘twiddler’ (I was lucky my first wasn’t, my second tries and it drives me round the twist!) try keeping your other breast covered whilst feeding – wearing a bra even overnight can help, or a top which makes it hard to gain access! Pair with distractions / redirection if needed (see below)
  • Provide distractions. There are loads of gorgeous nursing / fiddle necklaces available now, or have a small tactile toy to hand. With younger babies if scratching is an issue, sleepsuits with fold over hands can be a godsend when your tolerance is low! Sometimes singing or reading a story keeps them focussed on the job at hand.
  • If none of this is working, redirect. Holding hands, consistently moving hands away, kissing fingers, counting etc can help keep them from doing whatever it is you aren’t enjoying.
  • With older babies / toddlers, explain to them (gently at first, more firmly if needed) what you want them to do and why – ‘please leave the other side alone, I don’t like the feeling when you try to twiddle’ ‘Please use gentle hands, the scratching hurts me’ etc
  • If they can’t or won’t stop, consider taking a break from the feed. Gently unlatch and explain that you can’t feed them whilst they’re doing that and that you can either go and get that energy out, or try again if/when they feel ready to feed more calmly.

Obviously, there will be times when some this doesn’t work, and your role is to model patience and compassion, but body autonomy is SUCH an important lesson to learn, and its never too early in my opinion. If you are showing respect to their body, and expecting the same in return, is a foundation stone of understanding that people are in charge of their own bodies. Of who touches them, how and when. This is a slight tangent from the main topic but something I feel strongly about. Feeding manners are just one way of instilling this value, but one which can help you breastfeeding journey last its full duration with as much happiness as possible.

How have you found feeding an older child – or do you have any worries about what might come as your baby grows? Get in touch if so, we have tonnes of support for families I am sure I can signpost you to the relevant person / place!

Steph x

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